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By Gary F. Zeolla
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
I memorized the above prayer as a child attending Catholic CCD classes. In fact, I remember that I received a "gold star" for being the first child in my class to memorize the "Hail Mary" and "The Lord's Prayer." And I wrote out the above text strictly from memory.
But to be sure I had it right, I did an Internet search on "Hail Mary." Interestingly, about half of the links that came up were for sites discussing a desperation pass in football! But those sites aside, looking at the ones that dealt with the prayer, I actually had it right.
This is kind of amazing considering that I first memorized the prayer over 30 years ago, and I doubt I ever actually prayed the prayer even when I was still a Catholic. But millions of Catholics do pray the "Hail Mary." But how Biblical is this prayer? And what are the implications of its statements?
This three-article will go stanza by stanza through the "Hail Mary" in order to answer these questions. This first part will cover the first half of the prayer, and Parts Two and Three will cover the second half.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
The first three stanzas of the "Hail Mary" come from Luke 1:28. I checked several Bible versions, and the one that I found that reads the closest to the text of the prayer was an old Catholic version my parents had called the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Text, dated 1953. It reads:
And when the angel had come to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women."
The Catholic Douay-Rheims version of 1899 is similar to the above. So in the sense that these words are basically taken from a Bible verse, they are Biblical. However, it is in the implications that Catholics often apply to this words that Protestants differ from Catholics. Also, the translation and interpretation of the first important phrase needs to be considered.
full of grace
The phrase "full of grace" is the basis for the Catholic Church's doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The idea is that God filled Mary with grace at the moment of her conception, so she was conceived sinless. And further, this fullness of grace enabled her to live a sinless life.
However, the above two Catholic versions are the only two versions that I could find that translated the underlying Greek word as "full of grace." This translation of the word originated with Jerome's Latin Vulgate (circa 400 AD).
However, most Protestant versions render this phrase quite differently. Below is the rendering of this word from all of the versions I have installed in my BibleWorkstm program:
KJV: thou that art highly favoured
NKJV: highly favored one
NAS95: favored one
NIV: you who are highly favored
NLT: favored woman
RSV: O favored one
NRSV: favored one
Darby: thou favoured one
YLT: favoured one
So it would seem that universally, Protestant versions use some form of "favored" rather than "grace" in translating the Greek word. The point of this is that if "favored" is the correct rendering, then that basically eliminates any idea of this word having to do with Mary's supposed sinlessness. Being "favored" would not imply anything to do with sin.
As for myself, in my Analytical-Literal Translation (ALT) I rendered the Greek word as "[one] having been bestowed grace" and then used the alternative translation of "having been shown kindness." So I did include the possibility of "grace" being involved, but I also showed that a "lesser" meaning might be meant. But which of these renderings is the most accurate?
Below are the entries for the Greek word from the four Greek lexicons on my BibleWorks program:
favor (highly), show kindness to, bless
Liddell and Scott:
to shew grace to any one, N.T.:-Pass. to have grace shewn one, to be highly favoured
bestow on freely; pf. pass. ptc. favored (Lk 1.28) show kindness
Louw and Nida:
to show kindness to someone, with the implication of graciousness on the part of the one showing such kindness
So grace, favored, and kindness all have lexical support. So the idea of grace and thus something to do with sin could be meant, but not necessarily.
It should also be noted that the Greek word is a perfect, passive participle. The passive indicates the action is done to the subject. And when the active party is not specified, as here, it generally is a "divine passive" meaning God is the active Subject. This is the reason for my renderings of "having been bestowed" or "having been shown." The point is, whether grace, favor, or kindness, it is something that God gave to Mary, not that she had in herself.
But still, does this phrase prove that Mary was bestowed sinlessness at the moment of her conception? First, it should be noted that nowhere does the text state when Mary was bestowed this grace or kindness. Maybe it was at her conception, or maybe it was at the moment of the announcement of the angel to Mary due to her foreseen faith in this announcement (Luke 1:38).
Second, in my ALT I include a cross reference after Luke 1:28 to Ephesians 1:6. The reason I do so as that verse is the only other place this verb occurs in the New Testament. But, unfortunately, in most versions the word is translated considerably differently in Ephesians than it is in Luke, so this connection is lost. But throughout my translation, I tried to translate the same Greek word with the same English word or phrase whenever possible. So I rendered Ephesians 1:6 as follows. The context here is important, so I will also quote the surrounding verses:
1:4 just as He chose us in Him before [the] laying of the foundation of the world [or, before beginning of the creation of the universe], so that we shall be holy and unblemished [fig., without fault] before Him, in love,
1:5 having predestined us to [the] adoption [or, the formal and legal declaration that we are His children] by means of Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,
1:6 to [the] praise of the glory [or, splendor] of His grace [or, of His glorious grace], by which He bestowed grace upon [or, showed kindness to] us in the Beloved,
1:7 in whom we have the redemption by means of His blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, according to the riches [fig., abundance] of His grace,
It is due to God's grace being bestowed upon all believers that we are sinless ("holy and unblemished") in Christ. This does not mean that we have never sinned or that we never will sin. But it means that in our standing before God, we have "forgiveness of transgressions " and thus have been declared sinless due to our faith in Christ.
Since the same word is applied to Mary, the best that can be said about her is that as a result of having been bestowed grace, she also received forgiveness of her transgressions and thus was declared sinless due to her faith in the coming Messiah. But the verse in Luke in no way proves she was conceived sinless or that she never sinned.
Now in an email I received recently, a Catholic wrote that despite the same word being applied to believers as is applied to Mary, Mary's bestowment of grace occurred before the conception of Jesus. So in this sense, her grace was "special." Moreover, she had been foreordained to be the mother of Jesus, so, he wrote, it is "not unreasonable" for God to have caused Mary to be conceived without sin.
In reply, I would say, as I did above, Mary's being bestowed grace was due to her faith in the coming Messiah. Or it could have been due to her foreseen faith in the promise of God in regards to her conceiving Jesus. It was on the basis of such faith that all believers in the one true God before Christ's coming were saved (Rom 4:1-13).
Moreover, in the passage from Ephesians quoted above it is said that all believers were foreordained to receiving grace through faith. So if a prior foreordination caused Mary to be conceived sinless, then it could be said that it is "not unreasonable" for all believers to be conceived immaculately. Again, there is simply nothing "special" being said about Mary that is not said of all believers.
Mary was bestowed grace due to her faith just as we are. But as with us, this does not mean that she was conceived sinless or that she lived a sinless life. It just means that she has been forgiven and thus declared holy and unblemished in Christ.
The Lord is with thee
As a believer in the one true God, yes God was with Mary. But the same can be said about all believers.
As the author to the Hebrews writes, quoting from the Old Testament:
for He Himself has said, "By no means shall I desert you, nor in any way shall I be abandoning you;" so that we [are] confident to be saying, "[The] Lord [is] a helper to me, and I will not fear. What will humanity do to me?" [Deut 31:6,8; Josh 1:5; Psalm 118:6] (Hebrews 13:5,6).
And Jesus Himself promised His followers:
And listen! _I_ am with you* all the days, until the conclusion of the age! So be it!" (Matt 28:20).
So again, there is nothing "special" about Mary in this regard.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
The first line is from the angel's greeting to Mary quoted above. But it should be noted that some manuscripts do not have these words in Luke 1:28. So these words are not in some Bible versions. However, a similar phrase appears in all manuscripts in Luke 1:42, along with the second line above. The scene is when Mary, after she had conceived, came to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was then pregnant with John the Baptist.
1:41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leapt for joy in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with [the] Holy Spirit.
1:42 And she exclaimed with a loud voice, and said, "_You_ have been blessed among women, and the fruit of your womb has been blessed!
So both the angel and Elizabeth state that Mary was "blessed among women." So it is Biblical to say that Mary was "blessed." But does this indicate she has some kind of "special" position among women?
Back in Old Testament times an interesting episode occurred. Jael, a woman, was used by God to bring about a military victory for the Israelites. As a result, the prophetess Deborah sang a song. It included the following line:
"Jael shall be blessed above women, the wife of Heber the Kenite; blessed shall she be above women in the tent" (Judges 5:24; WEB).
So Mary might have been "blessed among women" but Jael was "blessed above women." The word "blessed" when used of humans, means, "divinely or supremely favored" (Webster's). So yes, Mary did receive a "special" favor from God in being chosen to bear Jesus. But many other women, and men, throughout history have also been "favored" by God in one way or another. And whenever God uses someone in a special way, they are "blessed."
Moreover, it should be noted that all believers have been "blessed."
As Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3:
Blessed [be] [or, Worthy of praise [is]] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One having blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies [or, heavenly [realms]] in Christ,
Personally, I would rather be "blessed with every spiritual blessing" than to be "blessed among women." The former seems to be a higher degree of "blessing" than the latter.
And finally, the "Hail Mary" is correct in quoting Elizabeth in saying Jesus is "blessed." In this case, "blessed" is being used in the same sense that Paul uses "blessed" in reference to God the Father.
So the word "blessed" can be used of humans, as in the case of Mary and other believers, and of deity, as in the case of Jesus and the Father.
Conclusion to Part One
The stanzas in the first half of the "Hail Mary" are Biblical in that they are taken from Scripture. However, these statements are not "unique" to Mary as they could be applied to any believer in Jesus Christ. But despite this, the Catholic Church interprets these phrases in such a way so as to develop special doctrines about Mary, such as her Immaculate Conception and sinlessness.
Moreover, the stanzas in the second half of the "Hail Mary" are not taken from Scripture. And the Catholic Church's uses the statements and its interpretations thereof from both halves of the "Hail Mary" to exalt Mary into a position far above any other human being. This will be seen in Part Two of this article which evaluates the second half of the "Hail Mary."
BibleWorks™ for Windows™ Copyright © 1992-1999 BibleWorks, L.C.C. Big Fork, MT: Hermeneutika. Programmed by Michael S. Bushell and Michael D. Tan.
Webster's Talking Dictionary/ Thesaurus. Licensed property of Parson's Technology, Inc. v. 1.0b. Software Copyright 1996 by Exceller Software Corp. Based on Random House Webster's College Dictionary. Copyright 1995 by Random House, Inc.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible. Copyright © 1999-2001 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
Verse marked WEB is taken from the World English Bible. Public Domain. 1998.
"Hail Mary" - Part Two
The above article originally appeared in the free
Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this Web site January 8, 2004.
Catholicism - Mary and the Saints
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